Do you want to determine who should receive your property and assets once you die? Do you want to avoid having your estate go into probate, for determination at the hands of the government? Do you want to ensure that a guardian is named and that provisions are made for the care of a dependent?

If you’ve answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you’ve answered the question of “Do I need a will?”

For the protection of their hard-earned assets, every adult needs a will and should have one made up as soon as one has either property/assets or a dependent.

If you haven’t made your will, don’t worry; it’s not too late to draw one up.

Consult with your local Estate Law attorney, like Relational Estate and Elder Law in Winchester, Virginia.

What is a Will?

A will is a legal document that states you wish your assets and property to be distributed at your death, and who will receive custody of your minor children. It is sometimes also referred to as a “Last Will and Testament.”

The contents of a will are generally as follows:

  • Payment of Expenses.  Expenses can include funeral costs and expenses of handling your estate.
  • Designation of an Executor. This is the person who will carry out the will’s provisions.
  • Naming Beneficiaries.  These are the people who will inherit your assets.
  • Designation of a Guardian.  A guardian is someone who will care for your minor children and those with disabilities under your care.

A Will Helps Avoid Uncertainty

Having a will is important because it enables you to specifically determine and clearly communicate your wishes. Without one, your estate will be distributed according to the principles of intestacy and the state will decide guardianship of your minor children. Intestacy is a set of rules about who receives your assets. Many people do not want their property distributed according to these rules, but unless you have a will, they will be applied.

It is also important to understand that some property is not governed by a will. Typical items that are distributed according to a will include:

  • Cash or cash accounts that do not transfer upon death
  • Retirement accounts and investment accounts that do not already list a beneficiary or have transfer-on-death instructions
  • Real estate
  • Personal property
  • Assets held as “tenants in common”
  • Items that are normally distributed outside of a will include:
  • Trusts
  • Proceeds from insurance policies
  • 401(k) and 403(b) retirement accounts and IRAs where a beneficiary is named
  • Investment, cash or brokerage accounts where a beneficiary is named
  • Assets held as “joint ownership with right of survivorship”

How Does a Will Differ from a Trust?

Simply put, a will covers property that is held in your name at the time of your death. A trust covers only property that has been transferred to the trust and is in the name of the trust. A will is part of the public record, while a trust may remain private. And you’ll still need a will, even if you have a trust.

A will goes into effect after the testator’s death, while a living trust can be effective as soon as it is signed. Both can be changed up until the time of death, with the exception of an irrevocable living trust.

A revocable living trust can also include provisions for your disability, in the event you become incapacitated prior to death. In the trust, a trustee of the testator’s choice is assigned and is responsible for managing the trust.

Consult With an Estate Attorney

Estate planning includes the creation of a will or trust, advanced medical directives, powers of attorney, and possibly, a trust. If you have yet to draw up your will or have not reviewed your will recently, please contact Relational Estate and Elder Law. We’ll be glad to help you get your estate planning in order.